How is the air conditioning?" I paused. "Fine," I nodded, lying.
We looked at the car, a slightly worn black Seat, both smiling. I'd bought it from Car Guy, a friendly, charming Egyptian, four months earlier, and he wanted to see how we were both getting on.
The car had been his pride and joy for 10 years, he'd told me, but it was time for a change. Four months on, he was being comforted by a flashy new BMW, but the affection he had for his old car was evident and he was keen to know it was making me just as happy.
I bit my lip. I couldn't do it. There was no way I could tell him that I not only regretted buying his beloved car, I simply dreaded driving it. In short, it had zero AC. Though the dial was set to max, it only ever blew hot air, and as the summer temperatures rose, it had become unbearable. Within minutes, my skin would stick to the leatherette seats and perspiration would send mascara pouring down my cheeks. On the plus side, my hair would dry in seconds.
I'd assumed this was as good as you got for an old second-hand car and chastised myself for being cheap. But now, still charmed by Car Guy's affection for it, I was lying about my satisfaction, and I wasn't sure why.
My benevolent lying had been a long-term affliction. There was the tearful friend with a terrible haircut, which I'd assured her didn't look that bad; that awful risotto lovingly cooked by a nervous hostess. "It's delicious," I'd beamed, chomping through the glutinous mass. Then there was the woman in the changing rooms who'd asked how she looked in the dress that made her look like a sack of potatoes. "It really suits you," I'd replied.
I still feel guilty about that one.
Why do I do it? Politeness or a worry of causing offence isn't an excuse. My intentions are honourable but ultimately this is a disingenuous, cowardly trait. But the car has taught me a lesson: it's time to toughen up.
A week ago I told my dad about the AC. "It's an old car; it needs re-gassing," he explained. He was right. The problem is fixed and now the car is delightfully freezing. But if I'd told the truth, the problem and solution would have been identified months ago. I would have avoided near heat exhaustion - and having to reapply all that mascara.
Car Guy, I have resolved, will be the final recipient of my consoling fibs. From now on, if your haircut is bad, your risotto inedible or your dress is showing off all the right bumps but in all the wrong places, I'll be the one to tell you. Honestly.