Sibling Bonds Endure

Mamie Mesfin visits her brother Mesfin Nega at George Washington University Hospital. When he leaves, she plans to have him live with her.
Mamie Mesfin visits her brother Mesfin Nega at George Washington University Hospital. When he leaves, she plans to have him live with her. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 23, 2006

He lies in a hospital bed, unable to feel his arms, his shoulders, his fingers, his feet or his toes. Breathing is a struggle. His voice, once bright and full, wavers between a murmur and a whisper.

Mesfin Nega, 31, cannot remember the horrifying moment in May when his life changed irrevocably. He knows only what he learned after emerging from an induced coma two weeks later: that a cluster of men had beaten him nearly to death outside an Adams Morgan nightclub; that his neck was broken; that he probably would never walk again.

An unrelenting free spirit with a sprawling crowd of friends, Mesfin has come to rely on them more than ever in the four months since the attack. Every day, they visit him at George Washington University Hospital. They banter, feed him, tend to his long dreadlocks and plan fundraisers -- the first is tonight at a club in Northwest Washington -- to help pay his medical bills.

Inevitably, they pass under the watchful eye of the woman who has long been at the center of Mesfin's life, his older sister, Mamie Mesfin, 35, a nurse who has looked out for him since he emigrated from Ethiopia at age 12.

For the first two weeks after her brother was beaten, Mamie (pronounced "Mommy") slept on a chair in his room. When he's ready to leave the hospital, she hopes to move him into the Columbia Heights rowhouse she shares with her husband. They plan to build ramps for his wheelchair, to widen doorways and otherwise renovate their home to accommodate him.

"I didn't think he'd make it this far," she said, standing a few feet from her brother, his small frame nestled beneath a white blanket.

For weeks after the attack, Mamie said, she struggled with rage and despair. Then she resolved to pour her energy into making Mesfin as comfortable as possible.

"All I want is to make my brother happy," she said. "Wake up and make him smile."

Smiling was never difficult for Mesfin, described by his sister and friends as a perpetual Peter Pan, a child gleefully trapped in an adult's body. By day, he worked construction jobs and searched property records for Montgomery County Circuit Court. But he lived for his free time, when he'd hang with his pals, play golf and basketball, lift weights, listen to Bob Marley and go dancing in Adams Morgan.

His sister nagged him to grow up, get to bed earlier and save money so he could settle down. He knew she was right. Late last year, he went back to school and talked of becoming an airplane mechanic.

But the night life still beckoned.

At 2:30 a.m. May 7, after hanging out with friends at a coffee bar, he went to Anzu, a favorite 18th Street haunt. The security guard refused to let him in, saying the club was about to close. Mesfin persisted, but the guard was unmoved.

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