I woke up to the Taliban walking in my city

The past few days in Kabul have been filled with fear and uncertainty.

A Taliban fighter stands by a kiosk selling sugarcane juice at a market area, flocked with local Afghan people at Kote Sangi area of Kabul on August 17, 2021, after Taliban seized control of the capital following the collapse of the Afghan government. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP) (AFP)

I first heard the news from my sister. Her face was pale and worried, as she came running into my room to announce that the Taliban had entered Kabul.

After fighting for 20 years to retake the Afghan capital, the Taliban took over the city in a matter of hours on August 15.

That afternoon, I decided to take a walk outside to see the reaction of my fellow Kabul residents, but found the streets almost empty. Stores and markets had closed. I hardly saw any women, who would normally be out at this time of day doing shopping or going about their daily lives. The sight of the deserted streets was depressing.

I realised that girls and women would no longer be able to walk in the streets with thick lipstick, sweet perfume and high-heeled shoes. Their laughter may no longer echo in shopping malls, markets or beauty salons.

My thoughts were interrupted by the loud sound of fighter jets in the skies. I could hear gunfire in the distance, but did not see any fighting in the streets. It was a bloodless and peaceful takeover.

I walked towards Pul-e-Surkh, a popular area lined up with luxury coffee shops and restaurants, where thousands of young Afghans used to meet, including couples. It reminded me of my love with whom I had my first date in one of the coffee shops there. Her sweet smile and burning eyes flashed through my mind.

Down in the third district, I saw a crowd of people. I approached out of curiosity and noticed some young people taking selfies with the Taliban fighters, who occupied the police station. Wearing shalwar-kameez and long hair and carrying assault rifles, the Taliban members happily posed for photos.

The news of Kabul’s takeover by the Taliban dominated headlines around the globe. I was inundated with messages and phone calls from China to India, from Cambodia to Sri Lanka, from Bangladesh to Israel, and from Kenya and Egypt to Rwanda and Zambia. Friends from different ethnic and religious groups showed their concerns and prayed for my safety, which gave me some consolation in this difficult moment.

Keeping calm and hopeful for the future has been difficult. The fear and anxiety in the eyes of Kabul residents is palpable. Girls and women have been particularly terrified, as many still remember the draconian rules imposed by the previous Taliban regime. In the 1990s, Afghan girls and women were not allowed to go to school or university, come out of their homes without male chaperons, go to beauty salons or work in public spaces with men.

Over the past few days, I had been receiving messages from female relatives and students, frightened about the news of the Taliban’s advance. The dread and disappointment were apparent in those messages. I tried to calm them down but it has been difficult.

I have been particularly anxious about my girlfriend, a taboo word for the Taliban. I texted her that Kabul would mean nothing for me if she was not here. I imagined that breathing in the same city with her was the only reason for me to remain. She, however, replied that she was extremely frightened. I tried to calm her down and wished to be by her side.

Friendship with the opposite sex is difficult in the traditional Afghan society, so we had to conceal our love from family members, friends and neighbours. Now with the presence of the Taliban in Kabul, friendship with the opposite sex will likely become impossible and even punishable by flogging.

She and I will no longer be able to have a cup of coffee and share romantic feelings while sitting face-to-face in a coffee shop in Pul-e-Surkh.

As I was walking through the streets, I heard lyrical music performed by a Shia religious group. The community was carrying out religious ceremonies as part of Ashura to mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

Engrossed in anxious thoughts, I returned home in the evening. I decided to check what people were saying on social media. I scrolled through Facebook and Twitter to see the public reaction. I noticed nothing other than fear and chagrin. People were caught by surprise by the arrival of heavily armed Taliban fighters in Kabul.

People called it a “transition of power”, saying that President Ashraf Ghani and some of his close associates left Kabul even though he did not declare his resignation formally. Some blamed the United States for abandoning the country to chaos. I came across the tweet of Ghani’s first deputy Amrullah Saleh which said, “I will never, ever & under no circumstances bow to d Talib terrorists. I will never betray d soul & legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander, the legend & the guide. I won’t dis-appoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with Taliban. NEVER.”

Late at night, the Taliban’s political spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid gave a short interview to Afghan media, saying that the Taliban would not hurt civilians or military personnel. He assured the viewers that the group will maintain safety and security in the country.

But I noticed that local televisions censored their programmes and did not broadcast some of their routine foreign TV shows. I also noticed earlier that some shopkeepers were removing pictures of girls without headscarves. In short, the censorship started as soon as the Taliban entered Kabul.

The next day, I went out again and found the streets of Kabul a bit busier. A number of shopkeepers had opened their shops and public transport was running.

For lunch, I went to a restaurant with a friend of mine in Gula-i-Dawakhana, about a 15-minute walk from Pul-e-Surkh. There I saw a few small groups of armed Taliban fighters who were also having lunch. People were staring at them.

While eating, I received a message from my love, saying that she would travel to India to apply for asylum in another country. Reading that, I felt as if the world around me started spinning. “You have been the only reason for my presence in Kabul,” I replied and added, “I was not afraid from the presence of the Taliban in Kabul yesterday as today I am from your absence and my loneliness.”

I knew that I would miss her so much, but I wanted her to travel from this city for her safety. Thousands of people like her are seeking to leave the country and a large number of couples and families will be torn apart.

On August 19, we celebrated Afghanistan’s Independence Day. A number of Kabul residents, both men and women marked the occasion with a protest. Chanting “long live Afghanistan, our national flag is our identity!” the protesters waved the three-coloured national flag instead of the white flag of the Taliban, as they passed Taliban fighters. This indicates that Afghans support the republican system and seek to preserve the achievements they made and they paid a heavy price for in the last two decades.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.