“What?” He scowls.
“Wi-Fi? Do you have Wi-Fi here?”
“Jesus. I’m trying to work.”
“Right. Sorry. I was just wondering—”
“About the Wi-Fi. Are you blind? Can you read, at all?” He points to a notice in the corner of the coffee shop, which is all about the Starbucks Wi-Fi code. Then he focuses on my dark glasses. “Are you blind? Or just subnormal?”
“I’m not blind,” I say, my voice trembling. “I was just asking. Sorry to bother you.”
“Fucking moron,” he mutters as he starts tapping again.
Tears are welling in my eyes, and as I back away, my legs are wobbly. But my chin is high. I’m determined I’m not going to dissolve. As I get back to the table, I force a kind of rictus grin onto my face.
“I did it!”
“What did he say?” demands Linus.
“He called me a fucking moron. And blind and subnormal. Apart from that, you know, he was really charming.”
The tears in my eyes are edging down my cheeks by now, and Linus stares at them in alarm.
“No, I’m fine,” I say fiercely. “I’m fine.”
“Wanker.” Linus is glaring balefully at the man in the grey T-shirt. “If he doesn’t want to be disturbed, he shouldn’t come and sit in a public place. You realize how much he’s saving on rent? He buys one coffee and sits there for an hour and then he expects the whole world to tiptoe around him. If he wants an office he should pay for an office. Fucker.”
“Anyway, I did it.” I speak brightly. “Your turn now.”
“I’m speaking to the same guy.” Linus gets to his feet. “He doesn’t get away with being such a prick.”
“What are you going to say?” I ask in panic. A choking dread is filling my chest, and I don’t even know what I’m scared of. I just don’t want Linus to go over there. I want to leave. “Sit down,” I beg him. “Let’s stop the game.”
“The game hasn’t finished.” Linus winks at me and heads over to the corner table, coffee in hand. “Hi!” he says to the man in a childish voice which is so loud that half the coffee shop looks round. “That’s an Apple Mac, isn’t it?”
The man looks up as though in disbelief at being interrupted again.
“Yes,” he says curtly.
“Could you tell me the advantages of an Apple Mac over other brands of computer?” says Linus. “Because I want to buy a computer. Is your one really good? I bet it is.” He sits down opposite the man. “Can I have a go?”
“Look, I’m busy,” the man snaps. “Could you sit somewhere else?”
“Are you working here?”
There’s silence as the man continues tapping and Linus leans forward. “Are you working?” he repeats in a foghorn voice.
“Yes!” The man glowers at him. “I’m working.”
“My dad works in an office,” says Linus artlessly. “Don’t you have an office? What do you do? Could I be like your shadow? Will you come and give a talk to our school? Oh look, your cup’s empty. Are you going to buy another coffee? Was that a cappuccino? I like flat whites. But why are they called flat whites? Do you know? Can you look it up for me?”
“Listen.” The man slams his laptop shut. “Kid. I’m working. Could you please find another table?”
“But this is Starbucks,” says Linus in tones of surprise. “You can sit anywhere. You’re allowed.” He flags down a female barista who’s collecting empty cups nearby. “Excuse me, can I sit anywhere? Is that how Starbucks works?”
“Of course,” says the barista, and smiles at him. “Anywhere you like.”
“Did you hear that? Anywhere I like. And I’ve got a cup of coffee, but you haven’t,” Linus points out to the man. “You’ve finished yours. Hey, wait.” He gives the empty cup to the barista. “See?” he says to the man. “You’re all done. You should either buy a cup of coffee or go.”
“Jesus!” Looking like he wants to explode, the man shoves his laptop into his man-bag and gets to his feet.
“Fucking kids,” he mutters to himself. “Unbelievable.”
“Bye then,” says Linus innocently. “Have fun being a wanker.”
For an instant I think the man might hit him round the head—but of course he doesn’t. He just heads out of the coffee shop looking savage. Linus gets up and slides back into the seat opposite me, his face all creased up into his orange segment smile.