"You've gotta watch out for that Ethiopian guy in the back," a white man in a spandex bike outfit once told me, referring to the underweight man in the massive black jacket, with rotting teeth and dirty fingers, sitting in the back talking with his friend.
Generalizations notwithstanding, 99% of first-generation people, especially Africans, never give me any problems. The East and Central African communities are among the friendliest groups out here.
Out loud I say, "It's all good. Those guys never give me beef."
"That guy does."
There are exceptions to every rule. On that day the man in question, along with his friend, did end up hollering at some women in the back of the bus- they all knew each other- forcefully asking the women for something I couldn't understand. "Hold the bus," Black Jacket Man yelled up at me, while one of the women gave him some money, apparently trying to placate him with a short-term solution.
It pays off to be friendly, though; as the men stepped out the back, I yelled a farewell- "thanks, my friend!", and he didn't forget to thank me for my time. As stated earlier, I benefit by remembering that my interactions need to be informed by the fact that I will see these same folks again, and again, and again. They're out there.
A week or so later I wait for a runner- no, sprinter is more like it- positively streaking toward my bus, defying physics as he bounds toward my open door. It's him, Black Jacket.* I actually like this guy. He's a ticking time bomb waiting to explode- there are stories of his ugly behavior- but I like his huge smile. He beams with pleasure upon recognizing me, his bright eyes and decaying teeth practically glowing. He mumbles animatedly in the direction of the transfers, and understands when I tell him I'll give him one on his way out. I've discovered this is a useful way to keep no-paying customers in check for the duration of the ride.
He's an absolute gentleman today. I have a feeling he would've been fine even if I had denied him a transfer; but you never know. It's not worth it to find out sometimes. There are boundaries that don't need to be tested. At the end of his ride, he bounds out of the back door, skipping past the overloaded bus to the front; "My brother!" he yells up at me.
"My friend!" I respond. A promise made is a promise kept. His smile is the face of someone who feels valued. We shake hands in the sunlight, and he goes glimmering off into the busy afternoon, the gleam still carrying on his face.
*Black Jacket has an identical twin, Blue Jacket (not his real name!), who possesses the same mannerisms, if not the same coat. I'm on first-name terms with one of them, but have no idea which.