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Flying on the roof of an aeroplane
I was woken by a desperate hammering on the door of our hotel room. I checked my watch. It was a little after ten, the bright sunshine outside barely leaking around the curtains. I leapt out of bed and ran to open the door, observing that my daughter Fariba was undisturbed by the noise and thinking that young people seem able to sleep through anything, even a noise like exploding bombs.
Khalil, my cousin, faced me through the doorway. He looked frightened. His first words were: “Salaam, cousin. I need to talk with you. Now!”
For a moment I stared at him, speechless. Then my brain began to work again. “Let me dress. I’ll come down and meet you in the restaurant.”
I went immediately to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I was worried but did not want to wake my daughter. We had been to dinner the previous night at the house of my future daughter-in-law’s family. Shahla was my son Haseeb’s fiancée and although I would have preferred an early night it would have seemed rude to drag Fariba and Haseeb back to the hotel, so we had stayed talking together with Shahla and her family until near midnight. What could possibly have happened to make Khalil so worried? Had something happened to Shahla or her family? I dressed as quickly as I could and rushed downstairs to find Khalil.
My first words were: “what is it Khalil? What is the trouble? Is the family okay?”
“Family are fine but I have bad news and I am worried for you…”
“What is the matter?” I asked. “You are killing me with such talk.” I waved my right hand and pulled his elbow across the table towards me. “Please explain.”
“The presidential palace is in the hands of the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country…”
“Is this some kind of bad joke?” I asked.
“I wish it was,” he replied.
His news was impossible to believe. Just around midnight we had returned to the Parwan Hotel through a very quiet Kabul. If anything had happened during the night I would surely have heard it since I am a very light sleeper and even a single shot wakes me. My experience of previous struggles for power in Kabul told me that the end was always terrifying with the sound of gunshot and explosions. I had witnessed such horrific events at least six times in the past, all bloody and explosive.
Khalil explained that the Taliban in their pickup trucks, the type of vehicle they used to transport soldiers, had entered Kabul overnight. There had been no resistance. They surrounded the Arg, the presidential palace, where the guards panicked and fled rather than face the brutality of the Taliban.