Mushroom picking in Belarus can begin right at the airport, as soon as your Soviet-era plane is done crashing through the terminal and right into the forest. Damn, you’ll think, untwisting yourself from the wreckage, look at all those mushrooms!
There are mushrooms all around you, crowding the forest floor and rapidly engulfing whatever’s left of the Tupolev Tu-104. The entire forest is pulsating with mushrooms, thriving on radioactive rain and soil.
The pilot, Fedya, appears with a woven basket strapped onto his head.
“You ready to pick mushroom?”
Fedya looks vaguely mangled, but genetically so. If there had been any people in the airport, you may have noticed that this is common for Belarusians. But thanks to your little agreement- $15 can go a long ways in Belarus – you flew out of an airport that was constructed especially for you and just this morning.
“Yes, I am ready to pick mushrooms,” you say, pulling Fedya out of the mushroom that has grown around his legs.
“You ready to pick mushroom?” Fedya who, okay, does not have a basket on his head but rather has a dent in his hugely underdeveloped skull, says again.
“You ready to pick-” Fedya forgets.
You cram your pockets full of mushrooms, dunk a radioactively charged mushroom into Fedya’s head, and then you’re stumbling out of the forest, carrying a freshly-comatose Fedya in your arms.
There has to be a hospital nearby. God, please. Two weeks later, you flag down the first car you see. The toothless woman driving smiles big, “Where you from?” and refuses to take Fedya’s corpse until you slip her one American dollar.