During the Taliban regime, all Afghan shopkeepers were required to lock their doors at 1 p.m and go to the masjeed (mosque) for prayer. Islam says that we shouldn’t pressure Muslims to pray; they should know themselves to pray, and know when prayer time is. But in the Taliban period, those who kept their shops open during prayer time were punished. So every day at 1 p.m., everyone was on the lookout for Taliban coming towards their shops. Before the Taliban could reach the shops, the shopkeepers and customers would run away and go to the masjeed.

Once I was with my mom at the bazaar. My mom was going to buy a burqa for my aunt, who wanted to come visit Kabul from Pakistan and didn’t have a burqa. It was ten minutes until 1 p.m. when we saw a group of boys running, some hiding themselves in the shops, others running towards the masjeed. “I think the Taliban are coming,” said my mom. She and other women nearby covered themselves, their bodies and their hands, with burqas. “Cover your nose and lips with your scarves, and make your scarves tight,” my mom whispered to me.

We saw a man approaching who had covered his nose, his ears, and his mouth with a black turban, as the Taliban did. He held a long rope in his hand, and when he saw the shopkeepers, he snapped it. “Just leave, start moving, don’t speak,” said the Talib. Everyone was shocked that he was allowing them to leave without punishment, and before he reached them, they escaped.

When he reached the women, he examined them seriously from their heads to their feet, but said nothing, as if he was very sad. He moved away from us and walked slowly, looking everywhere as if searching those for shopkeepers who were left. I was very scared; a silence fell over the bazaar. No one dared breathe even one word.

Suddenly, three boys without turbans rushed toward the Talib in the black turban. When they reached him, they pulled away his turban, revealing his face. Everyone waited to see what would happen next because at that time, no one dared even speak to a Talib, let alone touch them. Those who did speak were often beaten by the Talib.

Suddenly a big laugh broke out. We saw the man who wore the black turban was not a Talib; in fact, he was one of the young boys worked in the shops and he just wanted to make people laugh. Everyone did laugh a lot and started moving towards the shops, continuing with their work and shopping. Women near us said, “What a funny boy he is,” and “Look how, even in this difficult situation, he can still joke,” and “I was about to die—my heart didn’t move!”

I, too, was laughing hard, remembering how the shopkeepers ran to escape and the women covered themselves. I couldn’t manage my laughter. Finally, my mom said: “Keep your voice down! Otherwise, the real Talib will come and they’ll beat you, and they’ll beat me too because I am your mom!”

I stopped laughing. But later, when I saw Talib who beat people and ordered them to pray, I remember that moment and told myself, “THEY are the fake Taliban.”

By Freshta