Aditi Khare/MiC.

I awoke to the sound of meowing and an itch in my eye. As I regained consciousness, I began to remember where I’d fallen asleep. I took stock of my friend’s apartment bedroom. The slight weight of a hangover bore down on my head as it started to ache, compounded by the fact I had definitely gotten too little sleep. I groggily pulled my phone off the charger to see the disappointing time of 9 a.m. displayed, realizing I had definitely stayed up too late with my friends on New Year’s Eve. My friend’s adorable cat stood at the foot of the bed, so I needed to make my escape. I learned last time I slept over through my right eye’s ballooning just how allergic I was to him — one of many things I wish I could change about myself. Ah, I thought to myself, it’s gonna be one of those days.

I stumbled over to the bathroom, not bothering to turn on the light and using my flashlight as needed. I didn’t want to face the light yet. After I washed my hands and face in the dark, I went to gather my things and cleaned up my mess from last night as quietly as I could around my other friends sleeping on the couch. While opening the door to leave, I shot my friend a quick text thanking him and explaining my escape from his allergenic cat. I paused and turned when I heard a crash in the bathroom. Was it just the cat again? Lowering my eyes, I saw my friend lying on the floor. He was struggling to do sit-ups.

I tried to resolve this confusion with a stage whisper. “Hey man, you alright? I heard a noise, was that you? Also, uh, you doin’ a lil’ mornin’ workout?”

My friend rotated his head to lock eyes with me and answer while maintaining his exercise. “Yeah, just sit-ups, y’know? Might go for a run after this or something else.”

I forced a chuckle. “Starting the new year off right, huh?”

He stayed silent for a second, almost comically focused on holding my gaze while doing sit-ups. “Honestly? I just kind of stood in front of the mirror this morning for a second and really looked at myself. The person in there was the only thing that would really change my life for me, so I decided to let him — ‘New Year, new me’! You could try it if you want.” 

I grunted in agreement, feeling some unidentifiable urge to leave. I felt bad he was still staring at me while working up a sweat, so I excused myself. 

“Maybe I’ll do it at home. Thanks for the night, man.” He nodded wordlessly and turned his neck back to the task at hand, the form of his sit-ups improving with each rep.

I blinked and found myself already back at home. This happens sometimes, perhaps on one of those days when I don’t feel like experiencing anything: drives, walking, meals. It was already the afternoon somehow. I figured I must’ve killed the hours lying on the unusually uncomfortable carpet in our living room. I began to rise to my feet and gathered myself before I noticed my mother sitting next to me. She was deathly still. I was about to grab her and make sure she was alright before she let out a deep exhale. 

My mother opened her eyes to look at me. They lit up at the sight of me, with that kind of joy I felt so often unworthy of. “Did you have a good New Year’s Eve, beta? Are you having a good morning?”

I sprawled my legs across the rug and told half the truth. “Yeah, Mom. Did you?”

“We had a good time at the party, but of course we missed you. Do you know if you’ll have time to spend with us today?” 

A yes almost dropped from my mouth, but something unexplainable was telling me to leave. My stomach twisted and dragged me from wanting to stay here, forcing me to change the subject. I wish I had it in me right now to be a better son. “You’re getting very skilled at meditating, aren’t you Mom?” 

She glances down at her folded legs. “Yes, I’ve been practicing a bit, especially in the morning. You know, I got up and looked at myself in the mirror today. Do you know what the Upanishads say about your reflection?”

I shook my head.

“They say the person you see in there is Brahman — the Supreme Truth. You meditate on that truth in the reflection and within yourself. I thought today I should really do that, like — you know how you kids say? ‘New Year, new me?’”

I gave her a slight nod, then decided on something. “I’m going out for a little bit,” I said to her, as I glanced up at the sunset already beginning. Making my way through the door while grabbing my jacket, I expected some kind of protest but my mother just remained where she was. I repeated what I said, and she gave the slightest nod, instead of the usual interrogation about when I’d be back and what I was doing. Maybe she really was a new her.

I blinked and found myself 20 minutes out from my house, cruising down the road. Some melancholy track I don’t remember queueing up played out into the soundscape of traffic. This was a ritual of mine, where I’d embark on a journey in this car just looking for anything to make me feel something. It was a ritual I’d been practicing for years. I imagined driving forever and ever, with some unexplainable thirst to escape my life as it stood. Driving to nowhere in particular, I tried to drink in the sights of my city. Slowly but steadily, the thought of leaving clouded my vision. City lights began to twinkle as I blinked back tears. Keeping one hand on the steering wheel and another wiping my eyes, I contended with the thought like I always do, knowing exactly where it was coming from: a desire to leave myself behind, a need to separate myself from my current incarnation. I pulled over into a park overlooking a river, stepped out and stared into the world’s reflection in it. The truth was in there somewhere. I let my tears add to the flow of the river and felt myself come to terms with the desire to escape, and realized what I had to return home to do.

A man then walked up to me. Not recognizing him at all, especially in the dark, my anxiety heightened for a second as I moved back toward my car.

“Hey, don’t be scared! I left behind my old life today, and you could too, y’know?”

This stopped my motion. I looked up at him approaching me. With nothing but the moonlight reflecting off the river, I could barely make out any details of his attire. As he got closer, it seemed much of the light was reflecting off him, almost blinding me.

“All you have to do,” he started, “is come with me.” The man grabbed me by the arm. He began to pull me away from my car. My anxiety peaking, I pulled away with that fight-or-flight energy as hard as I could but the man’s grip stayed. More cars started to pull into the lot and more barely-discernible people stepped out toward me. That unexplainable feeling reared its head again and roared, prompting me to lift up my leg and kick at the man while pulling. I generated enough leverage to finally wrest my arm free. It finally escaped but not without cost, as pain surged through my arm. I realized something in his hand cut through my clothes into my flesh. As the mass of people took more steps toward me, I retreated into my car clutching my sleeve and tore out of the lot as fast as I could, trying to make it back home before any of them could follow me.

At first, the adrenaline pumping didn’t let the pain through. The drive home was a solid 20 minutes of anxious mirror-checking to see if there was any one car behind me. Surprisingly, I didn’t have anyone there. In fact, the middle of town that always seemed so busy was completely barren, even at this time of night. Streetlights flickered then turned off completely, forcing me to turn on my brights. I was almost in the home stretch, relatively unscathed, save for my wounded arm. Just a few minutes through midtown and I’ll be home, I told myself, glancing back up at the rearview. I saw nothing but my eyes, touched by an unknown gentleness. The small homey buildings of midtown came into view, giving me the only lights on the road I’d seen for miles. As I drew closer, I could make out the same words lit up, on the theater marquee, on lit-up storefront signs, on the electric display at the bank: New Year, new you! Good reminder for home, I guess. My arm started to cry for attention as the adrenaline wound down.

Finally, I pulled into my driveway then threw myself out of my shoes and into my house. My house was unusually quiet, but I had to check on my arm first before investigating that. I just needed to see a mirror. Slamming the door shut to the bathroom, I rolled up my sleeve to see shards of glass embedded in my arm. I felt my face drop in shock, first at my arm and my reflection’s smile.

It was so warm. Such a gentle look stared back at me from behind the glass and part of it made the pain fall away. I managed to vocalize my disbelief: “Sorry, what the fuck?”

My reflection tilted his head. “You really need to start listening more to your mother.” He rested his hand slowly against the glass. Something in me pulled my hand to meet his. I tried again for answers.

“Something about the truth?” His smile grew wider, the fluorescent light reflected inside the image seemingly bouncing off his shimmering teeth. 

“No cat allergies. A better son. Being someone else entirely. That’s what you wanted, right? We are the sum of everything you could aspire for and improve yourself toward. The collected potential that you wish for every time you stare unto us, yet find yourselves unable to achieve. We’ve been watching all this time.” The reflection lifted his hand from the glass and reared it back.

“And we have had enough.”

A shatter rang out and a hand clasped around my throat. I traced the length of the arm to find it extending from a hole in the mirror. Something else pulled me in too — a vacuum, I realize, coming from the other side of the mirror. It meant there was nothing on the other side but this being. 

“Don’t fight it like you did earlier. You’re one of the last to be reinvented. Becoming better is not always a pleasant process — sometimes it is a violent, bloody thing that you have to accept will hurt.” Saying this, my hand was slowly pulled into the opening, the jagged glass leaving new cuts in my skin. Another crash and another hand came out from the mirror. This time, it gently cradled my face. The reflection’s face pressed against the glass and I held my head as far away as I could from the mirror, trying desperately to think of anything to stop this. All I could do was cry out wordlessly, begging for someone in my family to save me but then realizing what had already happened. The hand around my face found its way to the back of my head and the last thing I saw was the mirror rushing toward me.

I blinked and found myself on the other side of the glass. I blinked again. Then again, trying to figure out what kind of twisted dream this was. I watched the bathroom door open to see myself step in with a broom and dustpan. My hands moved before my mind as I pounded against the mirror to no response. I could hear the rest of my family — or no, whatever truths they were replaced by — chuckling happily as I talked to them beyond the glass. All I could do was sit back and watch, meditating on the truths I saw beyond the mirror. I watched him finish sweeping and prepare to return to the rest of the family.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll all be good to each other. New year, new us.” 

MiC Columnist Saarthak Johri can be reached at