Wesseneyleh Asfaw, a gasoline station attendant, says he enjoys talking to people. Saturday night when an armed man wearing a ski mask came to his Gulf station in Fairfax County demanding money he handed over 86 one-dollar bills and started talking.

"I tried to tell him that it didn't make any sense to steal that little money since he was young and could work and get more," Asfaw recalled yesterday.

"He (the holdup man) said he would blow my head off. I told him it would make things worse for him if he killed me because he would then face life imprisonment for murder . . .

"He said I was right."

Asfaw, 26, who is also a student at Howard University, said two other men - accomplices of the robber - were waiting outside.

At that point, he said he told the robber to put the gun away because some customers were heading toward the station door and might notice. The customers asked for directions, he said, and "I was very calm. They never knew that a robbery was taking place."

After the customers left, he said, he told the robber that "the best thing he could do was to leave the money here and go."

The armed man responded by asking whether Asfaw planned to report the robbery if he left the money.

"I told him 'I'm not going to report it.' I told him to go away and don't come back," Asfaw said.

The man then returned the money, Asfaw said. "He shook my hand and said he was sorry," then left the station at 7269 Arlington Blvd. So did the two other men waiting outside.

Asfaw didn't report the matter to police; the manager of the station did after Asfaw called him.

Asfaw said something similar happened to him while he was driving a cab in Boston a couple of years ago. A man "pulled a knife on me," he said, during a dispute over a fare. He said he persuaded the man to put his knife away after warning him of the prison term he would face and the amount of time he would be away from his family.