The woman sitting next to me on the 2 pulls a Rubik's cube out of her purse, begins to play with it. So intent is she on twisting and turning it that she doesn't notice the eyes watching her. The eyes of the two men standing by the door, the taller one explaining what a Rubik's cube is to his friend, who, incredibly, has never seen one. The eyes of the teenage couple sitting opposite, holding hands, who have fallen silent watching her. The eyes of the young mother pointing the cube out to her two year old. The eyes of the child filling with wonder as it sees the toy flash in the woman's hand. Even the eyes of the permanently scowling young man peering surreptitiously out from under his hood. All these strangers, joined for a moment in a half-assembled intimacy by these impromptu arrangements of colour, this sliding of planes back and forth.
What is it about the Rubik's cube that fascinates them? Is it a shared desire for order, for the restoration of pattern and sequence? Or is it simply nostalgia for a long-ago childhood, some memory they are trying to hastily put together, knowing it will not come out quite right? Or is it simply curiosity, the unexpectedness of this activity, so innocent and yet somehow so personal, that takes them by surprise - these people who have learnt to live in a mutual privacy, who would have looked away if the woman had been crying, or pleading for help, or kissing.
The woman pauses. She has managed to get one face of the cube to be all red. Her fingers trembling with hope, she turns the cube in her hand. But no, the puzzle is not done - on the other face blue and yellow are mixed hopelessly together. She will have to break up the all-red face. There is no help for it. Around her, the disappointment in her hands is mirrored in a half dozen faces.
I get off, and the young couple gets off with me. Behind us, the woman with the Rubik's cube is starting again, breaking and remaking what she has done, approaching the problem in a different way. She must be going somewhere, I know, she is only doing this to pass the time. But in my mind I imagine her sitting there forever, in that faded subway car, assembling and reassembling the crowd around her, trying for that perfect unity, that perfect balance, everything in its right place.