At the tender age of seven years Eva Muthoni Wanjiku witnessed the brutal murder of her mother, Salome Gathoni, by a cold-blooded boyfriend. In came a struggle, a journey of betrayal and deceit by the very people she and her two equally young siblings. She shared with MWAURA MUIGANA.
Eva Muthoni scantly recalls events of the unforgettable night of October 23, 1997. They had spent the day celebrating their cousin’s birthday party in Landi Mawe estate in Nairobi. Her mother, then an IT manager at BAT Kenya Limited, happily engaged her children in conversation as she drove them home in her car.
She had been offered a lucrative job in the US and their new life in a new country dominated their discussions. The children were excited. They had applied and received all their travel documents and now eagerly awaited the triumphal entry into the land of opportunities.
When they got home, Salome packed the car and opened the main house for the children. Surprisingly, she didn’t enter the main house but went straight into the adjacent servant quarters of their house, something Eva had not seen her mother do before. Her live-in boyfriend was holed up there. Lately they had been in bad terms and she had asked him to leave but he would hear none of it and instead moved into the servant quarters. She was probably determined to end the relationship that evening and perhaps wanted to talk to the man into leaving.
Eva went to her bedroom in the main house and immediately heard the two quarreling. She was frightened of these perennial quarrels and the fact that the two were alone scared her. She opened the window and listened. She was very scared of the violent curses she could hear and the ensuing struggle. She prayed that her mother would be safe. Then there was silence. The details are scanty in Eva’s mind, but she slept believing the quarrel was over.
“When I woke up in the morning, my mum was not there to help prepare me for school. I was in class two at St Anne’s Primary School in Parklands. My cousin who lived with us walked me to the waiting school bus. I noticed a trail of blood leading to our gate and innocently sought an explanation from my cousin. He lied that he had been nose bleeding at night,” Eva recalls the tragic event.
Apparently her cousin was hiding a lot from her. Her mum’s quarrel with her boyfriend degenerated into a fight and the boyfriend picked a knife and fatally stabbed her. The man didn’t run away but instead informed the neighbours of what he had done. Neighbours called the police and he was arrested. Meanwhile, her cousin and the neighbours frantically rushed a critically injured Salome to hospital but she died on the way. Many years later Eva learnt that the killer of her mother went scot-free and is still going on with his life.
That evening she was picked from school by her mum’s friends and some family members. They took her to one of the family friend’s home and consoled her telling her that at times God takes away people like her mother but He would always watch over Eva and her brothers.
“I was only seven and didn’t really grasp this message except that mum would not be there for me anymore. I didn’t realise the implications of her death. All I knew was that mum was a hardworking woman who took good care of us. At 36, she was an IT manager for a big multinational company. She owned vast property including the three-bedroomed house in Nairobi’s Imara Daima estate where we lived, and land in Kinoo near Nairobi,” says Eva.
The hard journey begins…
After her burial on November 2, 1997 in their home in Mukurweini, Nyeri, several family meetings were held to chart the way forward for Eva and her two siblings. It was decided that the children were too young to be separated.
They all moved in with their aunt in Imara Daima. Eva was enrolled at Effort Junior Boarding Primary School in Kerugoya town; her elder brother was in class eight at Naivasha Boarding School, while Evans attended kindergarten.
After one year, the hosting family got tired of taking care of the three orphans. A family meeting did what Eva feared most – separating her from her siblings. She was sent to live with another aunt in Mukurweini in Nyeri, while her brothers moved in with an uncle who also lived in Mukurweini.
“Life in the new environment was harshly different. I had attended good private schools since baby class, which was in complete contrast to the local Gaciriro Primary School where I was enrolled. Children walked barefoot, many were infested with jiggers, and water was drawn from the river. Like the other children I did all the manual work including tilling the shamba and fetching water from the river. The culture shock was devastating and it took me a long time to fit in,” recalls Eva.
Her aunt was a prominent businesswoman but this didn’t help the situation much. For instance, Eva and her two cousins used to remove their shoes at the school gate in order to be like the other children. Eva’s feet eventually became jigger infested. After some time her aunt’s business collapsed and problems started biting.
Her grandmother, who also lived in an another area of Mukurweini, took to paying her school fees and providing money for her upkeep.
The uncle who lived with her brothers relocated to Nairobi with his family and moved into Eva’s mother’s home in Imara Daima. He took over the home and refurbished it for his family.
“My prayer was to excel academically and take care of my siblings. My mum’s death had pushed my elder brother into depression. We had been used to an easy life but now everything was a struggle including payment of our school fees. No one seemed responsible for our welfare and we were tossed from grandmother to uncle to aunt. We appreciated the little positive things they did but it was as if no one really focused on us. We depended on whoever extended some goodwill,” she explains.
To her disappointment, she achieved 324 points in her KCPE in 2002. It wasn’t good enough to enroll her at Bishop Gatimu Girls, Ngandu, her dream school. Her late mother attended the school and successfully qualified to join University of Nairobi. She wanted to follow in her footsteps.
She pleaded with her grandmother and aunt to let her repeat class eight and re-sit the exam. She was enrolled at Hill View Academy in Nyeri. She worked hard and attained 421 marks in KCPE and secured admission to her dream school in 2003.
School fees remained a thorny issue especially now that it was higher. While her grandmother seemed to struggle to pay school fees, Eva was later to learn that BAT had released her mother’s terminal benefits of five million shillings.
Since her mother had not written a will, Eva’s grandmother and uncle were appointed administrators of her estate. The children were never told about this money and only learnt about it when family members started blaming each other for its misuse.
“In spite of this money our upkeep and payment of school fees remained a struggle. My elder brother attended Kakamega High School and my younger brother was in a boarding school in Nyeri. Our guardians hardly visited us during school visiting days and we really missed the caring love we got from our mother when she was alive,” Eva narrates.
Eva’s focus remained to excel in school hoping one day she would be in a position like that of her late mother and also be able to take care of her siblings. She obtained a grade B minus in her KCSE exams in 2007 and unfortunately did not qualify to join a public university.
She applied to a private university but unfortunately there was no one willing to pay fees in a private university. It was while seeking help from her uncles and aunts that she learnt about her mother’s terminal benefits and its misuse by some family members.
“I got curious and enquired about this money. I learnt that some of the money was used to buy a plot in Imara Daima where a shopping mall was built. I was informed that half of the mall belonged to my siblings and I because the money used to build it belonged to our late mother. But I also learnt that we could not get our share as yet because we were not of age,” explains Eva.
Without money to pay for private university education, Eva opted to repeat form four and was lucky to get re-admitted at Bishop Gatimu Girls after explaining her predicament to the headmistress.
She re-sat the exam in 2008 and did quite well, though she didn’t get into law school as was her wish, but got admitted to Kenyatta University to pursue a degree in environmental planning and management.
One of her uncles paid for her first two years of university education and she remains extremely grateful to him.
Eva’s mother’s property and money seems to have been a curse on the family who have been fighting over it since, yet her children have never benefitted from it.
Sometimes the rows have degenerated into physical confrontations during family gatherings, for example during the funeral of the cousin who lived with Eva’s family when her mother was murdered.
Eva’s only bright side of her life since her mother’s death was being re-united with her biological father in 2010 during her second year of university.
“I learnt from him that he had proposed to my family that he adopts me after my mother’s death but my uncles refused. We established a good relationship and he introduced me to his wife and children and we get along very well. He continues to support me in many ways and I thank God for that,” says Eva.
Her siblings have not been so lucky. Kennedy dropped out of school during his second year of university due to lack of fees. His younger brother went to a day school in Nairobi but didn’t proceed to college because there was no one to pay his school fees.
This is despite the mall in Imara Daima, which was built with her mother’s money, and also their house being converted into a hostel, which of course must be bringing in some income.
Eva says now that she is done with school and hopes to get a job soon she will devote all her efforts to reclaim what rightfully belongs to her and her brothers. She has frequented many government offices in the past with a hope of being assisted without any success, but now has taken the legal route and can see light at the end of the tunnel. She says she owes it to her late mother and her brothers not to give up the fight.