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  3. “The Jungle Book,” “Mowgli,” and more strange cases of the “twin film” phenomenon

He leaned in close, his nose practically touching the screen. But there was the full lower lip and thick brown hair that Jorge knew well. Jorge felt a rush of confusion, and then his stomach dropped. The friend sitting next to his double had a face that Jorge knew better than his own: It was the face of his fraternal twin brother, Carlos. After work that day, Jorge walked as usual to the small university he attended at night, staring all the while at the images on his phone.

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Growing up, Carlos was the twin who aced the homework and Jorge the twin who copied it. Now they were each doing well; Carlos worked at an accounting firm during the day and was also completing a degree at night.

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They never considered themselves deprived; they crammed a television and a refrigerator into that room, and the public schools in their neighborhood were good. But they had more now — Jorge could travel to soccer matches, Carlos could go clubbing — and it pained all three siblings that their mother, who died of stomach cancer four years earlier, had not lived long enough that they could give her a better life. As he rode the bus home, Jorge tried to decide what, exactly, he would say to Carlos. He had already told Diana about the photos.

At home, Jorge found his brother on the phone, as usual, with a woman. Jorge told him to hang up. This was their dynamic: Carlos bristling, and Jorge, pestering, joking and darting around him, never letting up. The angrier Carlos would get, the funnier it all was to Jorge. Finally, Carlos finished his call. Jorge decided he would try to keep the mood light.

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Carlos was losing patience. If Jorge had something to tell him, he should just come out with it. Jorge sat Carlos down in front of the laptop in his bedroom and started clicking on photos, showing him the one of William in the Colombia jersey and others at the butcher shop. Carlos laughed alongside him, giddy with the strangeness of the similarity. Unlike Jorge, whose first reaction to the photo was to lean in and stare, Carlos snapped back as if something had pushed him, hard, in the chest.

He was furious. Jorge told him everything he learned from Janeth and Laura that day. The young men in the photo were raised on a remote farm in Santander, a mostly rural region to the north, whose locals were caricatured by other Colombians for their hot tempers and attachment to their guns. According to Facebook, they were born, as were Jorge and Carlos, in late December Perhaps, Jorge said, there had been some kind of a mix-up at the hospital — a nurse who accidentally swapped one baby from one set of identical twins with a baby from another pair.

He did not say what that would mean: that either he or Carlos was born to another mother. That they were probably not twins at all — not even biologically related. Nor did either of them acknowledge what both knew: If someone had been accidentally placed in their family, it was almost certainly Carlos. That Carlos never looked liked Jorge and Diana was obvious.

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Carlos was taller, solidly built, with a wider nose and a heavier brow. The contrast was not merely physical: Carlos had always felt like an outlier in his family, although he preferred to think of himself as independent.

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Since their mother died, he checked in with Diana far less often than Jorge did. He was the only one in his family who cared about fashion, and God knows he was the only one who could dance. Carlos and Jorge had always assumed that Carlos took after their father, but they did not know him well enough to be sure.

He had always adored her; she was strong if not exactly tough — when he and Jorge fought, she would hit them with a fluffy house slipper, which inevitably made them laugh, possibly her intended result. As meager as her resources had been, she made sure that each child could go to a good school and instilled in them the sense of a limitless future. Carlos credited her with all he had achieved so far.

Sitting beside Jorge in his bedroom, Carlos shut the laptop and fell silent.

“The Jungle Book,” “Mowgli,” and more strange cases of the “twin film” phenomenon

He headed into his room and closed the door. That night, Carlos barely slept. How could his mother not have been the one to carry him — to create him? He had grieved for her once; now he grieved again, as if losing her a second time. He felt unmoored, powerless, alone. William, who had quickly been promoted to manager of the shop, was happy to hire Brian, a part-time student. He felt closer, in many ways, to Brian than he did to his fraternal twin brother, Wilber. As Brian and William set up the shop, Brian explained that the previous evening, Janeth showed him photos that were very confusing, of young men who looked just like Wilber and William.

William was amused, intrigued. He remembered that Janeth had shown him that photo of his double months back. But this coincidence sounded even stranger. He texted Janeth and asked to see the photos. He and Wilber were delivered at just 28 weeks, and William had digestive problems. The aunt said he was treated at the Materno Infantil in the city. He passed this along to Janeth, who said that she would try to find out from Jorge where he was born. If Jorge was delivered at the Materno Infantil, Janeth texted, it would be clear: There must have been a swap.

Until that moment, William, like Janeth, had been caught up in the fun and suspense of piecing together the information. But now a wave of anxiety swept over him. He had always looked different from his family and wanted different things — a life bigger than the farm. But he never considered the possibility that he might actually be different — that he might not be theirs.

He looked around at the butcher shop; he could barely take in the oblivious customers, the hunks of bloodied flesh, his concerned cousin. He walked out of the store, heading upstairs to his third-floor apartment in the same building. From there, he compulsively texted Janeth to see if she had any information about the name of the hospital where Jorge was born.

A few minutes later, William stumbled back into the shop and showed Brian a text from Janeth. Jorge and Carlos were, in fact, delivered at Materno Infantil.

Then he sat on a bench in the back of the shop and broke into heaving sobs. Every thought tumbled into another equally painful one. He had been snatched from his rightful place. He was a missing person no one had known to miss. How would he tell his mother? She had six children, but he was the one who sent her money. He was the one who worried about her when she was sick and who tried, when he was young, to cheer her up if she was blue, smothering her with hugs and kisses and biting her gently on her ears to make her laugh.