Pale and thin, a teenager wandered the nearly deserted campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University at about 1 a.m. Wednesday. He hugged his body with his arms, whether because of the chill in the air or gnawing worry he felt was unclear.

Only a handful of protesters remain at “Poly U,” which hundreds occupied for several days, fighting pitched battles with police in the surrounding streets. Now, authorities have cut off the campus and are arresting anyone who comes out.

The teen, who wouldn’t give his exact age but said he is under 18, is one of the holdouts. He figured he had slept about 10 hours in total since arriving at the campus about five days earlier. He said he had eaten only two biscuits all day because his mind was too distracted, obsessed with one thought: How am I going to get out?

Helmets used by protesters are lined up at the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. A small group of protesters refused to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the remnants of hundreds who took over the campus for several days. They won't leave because they would face arrest. Police have set up a cordon around the area to prevent anyone from escaping. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Helmets used by protesters are lined up at the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. A small group of protesters refused to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the remnants of hundreds who took over the campus for several days. They won’t leave because they would face arrest. Police have set up a cordon around the area to prevent anyone from escaping. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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He arrived at Polytechnic late last week, heeding a call for support from protesters who were occupying five major universities in Hong Kong. It was Thursday or Friday — the days and nights have become such a blur that he kept asking an interviewer what day it currently was.

Like many of the protesters, he spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing arrest, and would only appear on camera with his face covered.

A Hong Kong flag painted on the ground of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University is partly covered up by a stockpile of Molotov cocktail in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A Hong Kong flag painted on the ground of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University is partly covered up by a stockpile of Molotov cocktail in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The campus takeovers were the latest escalation in an anti-government movement that has divided the city for more than five months. The protesters’ demands include fully democratic elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality in cracking down on the demonstrations.

In the mind of the teen, as for many, the police have become as big a problem as the government.

Riot officers began raining tear gas on their defense line outside the university on Saturday night, before battering them repeatedly with water cannons and tear gas on Sunday afternoon.

A man is evacuated by medics from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man is evacuated by medics from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The teen jumped into the fray. He joined others wielding umbrellas — they call them “shields” — and taking the full brunt of the often pepper-spray-laced bursts of water.

Three times he faced the barrages, dashing inside the campus stronghold after each attack to wash off the stinging water, change his clothes and return for the next round.

“I was at the very front,” he said. “It hit me straight on and I was soaked. If I hadn’t been wearing a jacket, my whole body would have felt like it was burning. Just my lower body really stung, and the water also got all over my face and into my eyes.”

A man is evacuated by medics from the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man is evacuated by medics from the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

It’s one of the roles of the front-line protesters, those who engage the police directly. Wearing gas masks, they throw homemade gasoline bombs and snuff out tear gas cannisters to try to keep the police at bay.

He acknowledges that others are likely see their actions as aggressive — the police call them law-breaking rioters — but he says their role is important because the government didn’t back down when hundreds of thousands of people peacefully marched in the streets in the summer.

“If it was just the peaceful protests, it wouldn’t succeed,” he said. “Already back in June, we saw that it was just peaceful protests, and the government wouldn’t listen.”

A man is evacuated by medics past graffiti of Pepe the Frog, which has been used a s symbol of the youth-led protest, from the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man is evacuated by medics past graffiti of Pepe the Frog, which has been used a s symbol of the youth-led protest, from the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

By Sunday evening, the police had begun to approach from all directions, setting up a cordon around the area. They warned that everyone inside would be subject to arrest.

Some protesters tried escaping on Monday and Tuesday; most were caught or repelled. The government offered to let those under 18 leave without facing immediate arrest, though their identification information would be taken down and they could be charged later.

Worried family members reached out to their children. The teen got WhatsApp messages from his parents, his stepmother and others asking him to give up. Police allowed religious leaders onto the campus to make similar pleas.

A woman is attended to by medics at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A woman is attended to by medics at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Others turned themselves in. The teenager wasn’t swayed. He said he prefers to fight with all the strength he has. Surrendering would show that he had given up the fight and agrees with the government and the police, he said.

“Even if you get arrested or die, you know that you’ve tried your best and you’ve got no regrets,” he said.

And so he waits, as the hours turn into days, with less and less company around him.

A man is evacuated by medics past charred debris from the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man is evacuated by medics past charred debris from the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Workers start to clean up the road outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Workers start to clean up the road outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Hong Kong schools have reopened after a six-day shutdown but students were facing transit disruptions as the last protesters remained holed up on a university campus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A worker sweeps the road outside the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. A small group of protesters refused to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the remnants of hundreds who took over the campus for several days. They won't leave because they would face arrest. Police have set up a cordon around the area to prevent anyone from escaping. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A worker sweeps the road outside the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. A small group of protesters refused to leave Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the remnants of hundreds who took over the campus for several days. They won’t leave because they would face arrest. Police have set up a cordon around the area to prevent anyone from escaping. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)