Fireweed is a short story written by Skye Brannon. In the text we are introduced to Baluta who is the main character. Baluta lives in the USA. We are not told what city Baluta lives in, but there is something mentioned about ghettoes in his neighborhood. This indicates that Baluta lives like many other Afro-Americans. His childhood city is described as a little Shanty town in Africa. We don’t know about Baluta’s age, however, long time ago he moved to America, possibly due to an outcome of war where something really sad happened to him and his family. In the text it’s stated that he lives with his big brother Jato and his sister-in-law Sama. When they are at work they don’t use their real names, but instead they prefer more common English names. Baluta’s English name is Joel, made up by his brother “Bob”. The reason for this is given in the text, “Dese Americans, if you tell dem your Mandika name, dey look like you’ve given dem a riddle. You tell dem your name is Bob, and dey are all smiles” which indicates that they may be afraid of the different society in some way, like the ‘people’ being mentioned have no reason to smile at them, which in the end means that Baluta and his family are looking for approval.
They all have jobs and Baluta drives the family’s Chevy every day, as there are no buses driving to his work site. Baluta feels bad about the fact that he is the one who drives the car, as Jato and Sama have to get up earlier than Baluta to take the bus. The new Chevy has substituted their old Camero as they could no longer cover the holes in the Camero with duct-tape, indicating that they are probably not the wealthiest family, although Baluta does work as a carpenter. In the text there are several occasions where Baluta remembers something about his life in Liberia. The reader is introduced to Baluta’s flashbacks that reveal a terrible history. The short story is built up in two parts and it’s written in past tense. The first part is in chronological order, covering just a single day where we are introduced to his ‘newer’ life. The second part is sort of built in to the first part, as it contains some flashbacks, reminding him of his life in Africa. The flashbacks appear as they are related to his ‘new life’. In general the flashbacks describe Baluta’s thoughts that are triggered several times by some outer impressions, which in the end give the reader the answers that he may be asking himself during the initial part of the text.
In the very beginning of the text, Baluta wakes up from sleep. He has been dreaming about his sister Alanso. It is the dream that makes Baluta wake up “It was Alanso’s laugh, stirred from the dead to wake Baluta”. At this point we don’t know much about Alanso, but she is clearly an important character. Furthermore, from Baluta’s point of view she is described as a joyful girl “It was Alanso’s laugh, flowing like doves out of her bright smiling mouth”. As Baluta washes himself in the shower, he is reminded of Kpatawee Falls back home because of the cold water. From that point he knows that it is going to be a remembering day. Mrs. Giles, who is a lady that Baluta has been helping, refers Baluta for work at a house of a woman called Tiffany. As Baluta is on his way to Tiffany’s house, he spots a pond that reminds him of something. The pond has a recognizable shape that reminds him of Alanso and hours of joy.“… but it was just the same curve as the pond where he and Alanso played, splashing and laughing”.
The memories seem to remind him of old times which in this case are happy times. Later when he parks his car in front of Tiffany’s house, she has a frightened expression that reminds Baluta of some monkeys that his father used to catch. In the text it says that she is holding a telephone in her hand, which may indicate that she is afraid of Baluta and that she is ready to call the police in case he turns out to be a troublemaker. But she unwinds as soon as Baluta smiles and tells her who he is. Shortly after his arrival, he spots a hole in the ground. Again, the flashback reminds him about Alanso, “It was the mound of dirt full of ants that he and Alonso used to torment.” Baluta remembers the worst thing as Tiffany talks with her husband on the phone. She wants fireweed color for her walls which triggers a flashback in Baluta’s mind. However, this time it is everything but a happy memory.
The last flashback reminds Baluta of something he doesn’t want to think of. It reminds him of a day long time ago, where his Grandma Awa wanted to punish him for sticking his fingers in the cassava pile. For punishment his Grandma wanted him to eat fireweed, which would cause a burning pain in his mouth. But he never gets his punishment. As he goes to get the fireweed he watches some men with guns, machetes and jeeps killing his family. He sees Alanso’s limp body, his father hanging in a tree and his Grandma lying in a puddle of blood.
Baluta is a very polite and moral person. He calls Tiffany ‘Mrs. Tiffany’ and feels bad whenever he borrows the car when his family is forced to take the bus. Besides that, he sleeps in a cot instead of spending money on a new bed. Furthermore, he and his family don’t want to bother other people with their African names, so instead they use common names like Bob and Joel. Due to the sadness in the story, the main theme of the story could be family loss, grief or painful memories because of the main character’s thoughts and flashback reminding him of such a tragic event. In addition it seems like Baluta’s loss has been causing him pain for quite some time. “Sometimes remembering began later in the day, but not today”.