Angeline Omina sits in her house in Kibagare, Kangemi; a compact slum crammed with tiny iron sheet structures where the din of children playing on the rough and narrow mud street outside penetrates.
Omina has just returned home from work. Home is a single room with a three-seater sofa, a wobbly coffee table and a small kitchen area. Two draped sheets hide her bed from view.
This is where she has been raising Sharon Mathias, her daughter.
Everything Omina has done, including leaving her more comfortable home in the village to live in a city slum, have been to give Sharon a better life.
“I love this child so much and I have worked hard to raise her. Even these odd jobs I do, I do for her. If she asks me for something, I always struggle to give her,” Omina told The Standard, fresh from her housekeeping job in Westlands, Nairobi.
It had been a good day for Omina because she found work, something that is never guaranteed.
She felt indescribable pain knowing the sacrifices she had made for the girl she loved and raised as her daughter might be for a child that is not biologically hers.
As Omina experienced pain and hope at the same time, she was categorical that she loved Sharon unconditionally. Her sentiment was shared by Wilson Maruti, the man who has known Sharon to be his biological daughter.
Their love story is also unconventional. Omina and Maruti met nearly 20 years ago after the former had split from her husband (Cosmas Mathias) and the father of her first child.
Maruti says: “I did not know Angeline was already married. Her husband found out about our relationship and started causing trouble. It went on until I decided to leave. She was one month pregnant with Sharon at the time.”
Omina, on the other hand, says she was separated from Mathias but he asked her back when he found out about the pregnancy.
After Maruti left, Omina narrates, she returned to her husband, who accepted the pregnancy even though he knew the child she was carrying was not his. “He even gave Sharon his last name and took care of her like his daughter from the moment she was born. Since then, he has raised her like his own child,” she says of the man who now lives in their rural home in western Kenya, after his business collapsed in Nairobi last year.
Years later, Omina and Maruti bumped into each other on a Nairobi street.
“It was just a coincidence. He asked me what happened to the pregnancy and I briefed him. Sharon was in Class Six then. I introduced them to each other and they reconnected,” Omina explains.
Maruti has been helping Omina pay Sharon’s school fees and giving her pocket money since they met. But he admits it has been challenging.
“It has not been easy. Sharon is a very determined child. When she says she wants something, you must give it to her. I also have three other children in high school because I got married, and it is not easy paying school fees for all of them,” said Maruti, a manager at an apartment in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa area.
Maruti recalls that Sharon first told them of Melon Lutenyo, her probable twin sister April last year. “Sharon told me a man in Kakamega had clung to her on the street and insisted she was his daughter. She also told me that another time a teacher reprimanded her, claiming she was seen in Kakamega when she should have been in school.”
Later, Sharon heard from her schoolmates that she had a doppelganger and searched for her on Facebook, where they connected and arranged to meet physically.
It was not until this April that Sharon brought Melon to meet Omina and Maruti in Nairobi. Both parents told The Standard the uncanny resemblance between the two girls shocked them.
“They look alike to the tiniest detail. Even their fingers look the same. Mevies, on the other hand, looks nothing like them,” Omina exclaimed.
Both parents admitted that they were in denial and equally conflicted about the chance that their biological daughter might have been switched with Sharon in the nursery at Kakamega County Referral Hospital.
Omina remembers that distant day in August 1999 well. “The nurses just gave me the baby to glance over when she was born. They said she could not stay out in the cold for long and they had to rush her to the nursery because she was premature. So I did not have a good look at her. I went to see her later in the nursery and she had the tag “Sharon Mathias” on her wrist. That is when I studied her keenly. She had a black mark on her body. The mark is still there today, although it is not as visible as it used to be.”
Omina said in the wake of finding out about Mevies Imbaya, the girl who grew up as Melon’s twin, her relatives have pointed out that they look alike. Even to a casual observer, Omina bears a stronger resemblance to Mevies than Sharon. Omina and Mevies are lighter and shorter than Sharon and Melon.
For years, Omina admitted, she had to field questions about why Sharon did not resemble her.
Really my child
“All my life, people have asked me if Sharon is really my child because she is dark-skinned and I am light-skinned. The question never struck me as odd because Sharon’s father is dark-skinned, so I knew she took after him.”
Maruti said he never doubted that Sharon was not his daughter. “Everyone says Sharon looks like me. She even looks a lot like Yvonne, my other daughter. If Sharon is not my daughter, then why does she resemble me and my family?”
Omina and Maruti said they were worried about how the girls were faring after the excitement of the past few days.
“Sharon is the head girl at her school and a top performer. But ever since she met Melon, her performance has dropped, especially this year. I think she is worried about the matter,” her mother said.
Maruti added: “They are happily celebrating in Kakamega but I know when the joy subsides and they return to school, the shock will sink in and they won’t be able to study properly yet they are supposed to write their KCSE exams.”
Both parents said a DNA test needed to be conducted urgently to lay the ghost of uncertainty to rest.
“We all need to know the truth soon so we can be at peace,” Omina said, adding that this was despite her fear that Sharon might choose to stay with her new family if the test shows that she is their daughter.