The story of the merchant's servant who flees to Samarra is presented as an epigraph to the novel Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara. An epigraph is a quotation appearing at the beginning of a literary work that serves as an introduction, comparison, or thematic preface. The epigraph is paraphrased from an earlier telling of an old Arabic fable in the play Sheppey by William Somerset Maugham.
According to the story, a merchant sends his servant to the marketplace to purchase supplies, and while the servant is there, he is jostled by Death, who is personified as a woman. The servant thinks that Death gestures at him in a threatening manner. Terrified, he returns to his master, borrows a horse, and flees to Samarra. He rides to Samarra because he thinks that Death will be unable to find him there.
After the servant leaves, the merchant goes to the marketplace and finds Death. He asks her why she threatened his servant. Death says that she did not intend to threaten the servant, but she was only surprised. She did not expect to find him there at the marketplace, because she had an appointment that evening with him in Samarra. The story is meant to illustrate the inevitability of death. Even though the servant flees to Samarra to escape Death, Death will be there to meet him.