“Why are you travelling without a mahram?” the Taliban guard asks a young Afghan woman about her missing male escort.
She sits on her own in the back of a beat-up Kabul yellow taxi as it pulls up to the checkpoint marked, like all the others, by the white Taliban flag with black script.
What is allowed now in Kabul, and what is not?
The turbaned Talib, rifle slung over shoulder, tells her to call her husband. When she explains she doesn’t have a phone, he instructs another taxi driver to take her home to get her husband and bring them back. Once completed, all is resolved.
Kabul is still a city of a grinding traffic gridlock, wooden market carts groaning with Afghan green grapes and deep purple plums, and street kids in tattered tunics threading through the melee.
On the surface, the city seems much the same. It’s not.
It’s a capital governed by Taliban statements, and some Taliban on the streets.
“Be careful in how you deal with your people. This nation has suffered a lot. Be gentle,” urged spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in an impromptu press conference, flanked by fighters in full combat gear, the first day after the last US soldier flew home.
Some things don’t need saying. As soon as the Taliban swept, with surprising speed, into Kabul last month, Afghans knew what to do during Taliban rule 2.0. Men stopped shaving to allow beards to grow; women switched bright scarves to black ones and checked the length of their dresses and cloaks.
So much else is uncertain, unnerving.