I first heard the news from my sister. His face was pale and worried as he ran into my room to announce that the Taliban had entered Kabul.
After fighting for 20 years to retake the Afghan capital, the Taliban seized the city in a matter of hours on August 15.
That afternoon, I decided to go for a walk to see the reaction of my fellow Kabul residents, but found the streets almost empty. Shops and markets had closed. I hardly saw women, who would normally be out at this time of day shopping or going about their daily life. The sight of the deserted streets was depressing.
I realized that girls and women could no longer walk the streets in thick lipstick, sweet perfume, and high heels. Your laugh may no longer resonate in shopping malls, markets, or beauty salons.
My thoughts were interrupted by the loud sound of fighter jets in the sky. I could hear gunshots in the distance, but I didn’t see any fighting in the streets. It was a peaceful and bloodless takeover.
I walked to Pul-e-Surkh, a popular area full of fancy cafes and restaurants, where thousands of young Afghans used to hang out, 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.
In the third district, I saw a crowd of people. I walked over out of curiosity and noticed some young people taking selfies with the Taliban fighters, who were occupying the police station. With shalwar-kameez, long hair and assault rifles, the Taliban members happily posed for photos.
News of the Taliban takeover of Kabul dominated headlines around the world. 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 of different ethnic and religious groups expressed their concerns and prayed for my safety, which gave me some comfort at this difficult time.
Staying calm and hopeful for the future has been difficult. The fear and anxiety in the eyes of Kabul residents are 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, leave their homes without male companions, go to beauty salons, or work in public spaces with men.
In recent days, she had been receiving messages from relatives and female students, frightened by the news of the Taliban advance. The dread and disappointment were evident in those messages. I tried to calm them down but it has been difficult.
I’ve been particularly worried about my girlfriend, a taboo word for the Taliban. I texted her saying that Kabul wouldn’t mean anything to me if she wasn’t here. I imagined that breathing in the same city as her was the only reason for me to stay. She, however, replied that she was very scared. I tried to calm her down and wanted to be by her side.
Friendship with the opposite sex is difficult in traditional Afghan society, so we had to hide our love from family, friends and neighbors. Now, with the presence of the Taliban in Kabul, friendship with the opposite sex is likely to 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 listened to lyrical music performed by a Shiite religious group. The community was holding religious ceremonies as part of Ashura to mourn the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
Absorbed in anxious thoughts, I returned home at night. I decided to check what people were saying on social media. I scrolled through Facebook and Twitter to see the public’s reaction. I didn’t notice anything but fear and disgust. People were surprised 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 they did not formally declare their resignation. Some blamed the United States for abandoning the country to chaos. I came across the tweet from Ghani’s first deputy, Amrullah Saleh, who said: “Never, never and under no circumstances will I bow down to the Taliban terrorists. I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander, the legend and the guide. I will not disappoint millions of people who listened to me. I will never be under the same roof with the Taliban. NEVER.”
Late at night, the Taliban political spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, gave a brief interview to the Afghan media and said that the Taliban would not harm civilians or military personnel. He assured viewers that the group will maintain security in the country.
But I noticed that the local televisions censored their shows and did not broadcast some of their routine foreign TV shows. I also noticed earlier that some merchants were removing photos of girls without a veil. 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 little more crowded. Several merchants had opened their shops and public transport was working.
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 some small groups of armed Taliban fighters who were also having lunch. People were looking at them.
While eating, I received a message from my love, saying that I would travel to India to apply for asylum in another country. Reading that, I felt like the world around me started to spin. “You have been the only reason for my presence in Kabul,” I replied and added, “I was not afraid of the presence of the Taliban in Kabul yesterday as I am today of their absence and my loneliness.”
He knew he would miss her very much, but he wanted her to travel from this city for her safety. Thousands of people like her are seeking to leave the country and large numbers of couples and families will be torn apart.
On August 19 we celebrate Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Several Kabul residents, both men and women, celebrated the occasion with a protest. Screaming “Long live Afghanistan, our national flag is our identity!” protesters waved the tri-colored national flag instead of the white Taliban flag as they passed Taliban fighters. This indicates that Afghans support the Republican system and seek to preserve the gains they have made and paid a heavy price for over the past two decades.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.