Image Description: Protestors at the UCLA encampment hold flags and fists high in the night sky.

Photography by Zaia Hammond. View the full photography collection here.

The following is a submission to our open call for art related to the UCLA encampment and the Palestinian crisis.

Abdhi Jadeja, a South Campus major in the day, moonlights as a writer and aspiring poet locked in a perpetual battle to unify the two opposing worlds of science and storytelling that define her heart.

It would have been a beautiful night, if she could see the stars.

She’s been squinting for them, hazel eyes scouring the light-polluted sky through a water-stained window. Nothing. Unsurprising, almost. Her sigh settles gently into the dark, stillness soothing the night until her phone lights up, dislodging her reverie and casting the room into motion.

Hi, she says, a little breathless, once the phone has lit up with the successful connection–but the

breath leaves her lungs as quickly as she’s drawn it. There’s a scuffle on the other end of the

phone, a sense of staticky panic, and the voice on the other hand gasps out a,

Come back, quick.

The comfortable stillness is cut open, bleeding impending dread, and she cups her hand to the

speaker like it’ll allow her to hear better. That’s not how it works. She knows that. She does it

anyway, ducks her head.

What? What happened, tell – she is, perhaps aptly, cut short by a muffled boom. The voice on the other end succumbs to a sharp gasp, embodying the dread that she can currently feel sinking lead-heavy into the pit of her stomach.

Just come, right now. and it’s as much an order as a plea, and she’s rooted to the ground by its

intensity for one stunning, terrifying moment.

And yet she goes, cutting through the night almost mindlessly, like her legs are taking her of

their own accord. It all looks different than it did in the day, like a dream twisted sideways, a

waking nightmare, shadows pushing in like the peripheral darkness before a fainting spell. And

then she rounds the corner, and it all takes color once more like spilled paint flung through the


Smoke. Fire. Chemicals burn in her lungs, and she draws the black-and-white scarf up over her

hair like a shield from the floating dust. Pulls a white mask up over her mouth and nose, instinct.

Acknowledges, silently, the way the green-vested girl at the port breathes a small sigh at her

name. Watches, a little brokenhearted, as the girl’s shoulders loosen. She’s a year or two younger. There’s a set to her jaw that hadn’t been there in the day.

As she passes, she squeezes the girl’s arm. The girl stops her, reaching out abortively. “Be –”


It goes without saying, now. How terrible, she thinks, vaguely, and then she’s in.

The palette has shifted. Bright white-orange-greens become smokey reds, grays, the navy of a tent canopy, the gleam of a silver rod. It’s a wasteland, she thinks, and crouches for a second,

lowering herself to the ground. Touches the smashed grass like it might breathe itself back to life

under the pads of her fingers, like her touch would wash the grass green once more.

But the encampment – what’s left of it now, under the velvety blanket of night – breathes, life

swells within it, and she stands, pulled back to her feet, back into motion like a puppet dangling

from a child’s wayward hand. Because they all knew this was coming, they could feel it like an

undercurrent in the Earth itself, pregnant unrest underlying each golden day and looming in the

peaceless night.

Hold the line, she hears, shouted over the din, and it’s automatic, reflexive, she slots herself into

place, feels the people on either side of her shift to accommodate her, and isn’t that what this has been? Instinctive, innate protection, breaths drawn as one, exhaled as a collective.

But there’s a strange sense of being caught in time now. There’s tension rippling through the air

of the front line, filling her mouth and nose like the smoke from the explosives that keep popping

on the dead grass, sending the world into a warped haze. She ducks her head, hand tightening on the shoulder of the woman in front of her – the girl, just a girl, it’s in her eyes, wide and

astonishingly green, the only part of her face visible behind layers of plastic and cloth and fear.

And yet she stands her ground, grip white-knuckled on the scrap of plywood separating her from

the din beyond. Are you okay? she shouts over the din, and are any of them, really?

Yes, she shouts back, pairing it with a nod that she hopes doesn’t betray to this girl that her

heartbeat has quickened such that it drums in her chest and her wrists and her head and her

throat. It’s a losing battle. They both know that. The girl nods anyway, turns back to the fight,

braces her forearm on the plywood, and that’s that.

Or, so she thinks. It’s an exploration in sinusoids, the ebb-flow of consecutive onslaughts. She

knows, from watching the twitch of a fist, the lowering of a chin, the shift of a stance, where the

motion slides into another peak, another valley. It’s almost laughable. It is circular.

And yet, on it drags. Minutes stretch out like rubber bands, snapping into hours, until it’s been

eons and seconds since the day turned and exhaustion bleeds into the heavy blanket of tension, corroding before her eyes. It’s cyclical, individual voices fading into a deafening drone, broken by only by orders to get him in, where the fuck’s the saline?! or make way! or hold the fuckin’ line! hold the line!

Time doesn’t stand still. In fact, it seems to race, beyond the grip of her consciousness, faster and

faster with each scream, with each chant, with each inhale. Time spins on, threatening dawn, and it’s blurring before her eyes. He’s been beside her the whole time, the man whose face she

doesn’t know, of whom all she can read are his eyes, which have given her next to nothing to

begin with. But perhaps there’s the irony. She’s learned more from the set of his shoulders and

the slope of his neck than she could have learned from any expression that could have been

produced in response to what was beginning to feel like a fever dream.

And then glass shatters, and there’s blood on her hands, and she’s dodged – ma used to tell her

that she was too small to be picking fights, but she supposes this doesn’t count as one she picked– and he’s ducking away from the line, fingers desperately grasping for the knot that’s kept the keffiyeh up over his face. His spot is filled immediately.

Hers will be, too.

His eyes are wide, and as the gradually-more-crimson cotton slides away she can see that the rest of his expression matches. He’s young, face unmarred and soft around the edges, like the only fights he’d have seen would be those on the TV. The blood comes from his temple. It’s not deep enough for stitches, but there’s antiseptic being pressed into her hand, a roll of bandages, and she’s quiet for a long moment. He’s fidgeting, attempting to stand up.

Stop moving.

I’m fine, fuck, it’s just a – a hiss of pain. She knows this look in his eyes, they’re a mirror of her

own expression. Anger, hurt, disgust, illuminated by the red-blue-purple of the police cars that

have idled in the roundabout, blurring through pepper-spray tears, sirens fading into the hiss of

cans of mace and setting the tempo of shattering glass.

The sky fills with a haze of tear gas. Hours ago, she would have pulled on goggles, ducked. But

there’s blood under her fingernails, in the lines of her hands, the iron of it thick in the back of her

throat, metallic on her tongue. It won’t hurt. It all hurts.

The night slips into quiet once more, returning to honey-dark silence once more, studded by stars like distant jewels.

A reminder, perhaps, written into the heavens. Survive another night.

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