Navigating the devastation of a world without Diego Maradona, the masses sought a collective embrace in the Argentine capital on Thursday.
“You find some kind of consolation in this,” said Marcela Rodriguez, 52, tucked into the throngs who had come to pay their final respects to the football legend in Buenos Aires.
“He was an ambassador. You go to another country and you say you’re from Argentina, it’s basically the same as saying Maradona. And that fills you with pride. So I’m going to remember him as a great man.”
It has been an emotionally intense 24 hours in Argentina, already reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic, now on its knees over the shocking passing of one of its most prized possessions. Maradona died of a heart attack on Wednesday. He was 60.
Argentinians sobbed, and papered over the pain with singing and dancing in the streets. Thousands spent the night at the famous Obelisk in Buenos Aires, migrating under cover of darkness to the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, where Maradona’s body lay in wake. Fathers brought their daughters. Mothers clung on to their sons.
The smell of choripans, the classic street sausage, wafted in the air, as vendors unfurled T-shirts, scarves, posters and all manner of memorabilia for one of the most watched soccer players in the world.
As day broke, the masses grew impatient, and skirmishes broke out at the front of the line to the Casa Rosada, as people tried to push through, throwing beer cans at riot police who pushed them back repeatedly. Those who emerged from the viewing appeared shell shocked, too distraught to speak.
“It was the saddest thing I saw in my whole life, Diego, in a coffin, with the Argentine flag,” said Christian, who clutched a bouquet of yellow and blue flowers - the colours of Maradona’s former club Boca Juniors, that he plucked from the garden in front of the presidential palace.
“It was too fast, you pass that coffin for a touch, it hasn’t hit me that he’s gone. Everyone processes this the best they can, but it’s very hard, very hard,” said Anibal Diaz.
By noon, the lineup to get into the Casa Rosada snaked along the 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires' iconic street that is punctuated by the Obelisk.
The wake is expected to stretch into at least Friday and a million people are expected to attend. A state funeral is also being planned.
“What did he signify? Everything,” said Wilfredo Orellano, 57, who on Thursday stood in Plaza de Mayo, selling roses to mourners.
Maradona brought joy to Argentina and for Orellano he also brought good fortune.
He owes his first car to El Diego - a Chevrolet 400, that he bought selling flags during Argentina’s - but really Maradona’s - sensational World Cup run in 1986.
“Diego is the village. Look around, everyone comes from humble means. From the neighbourhood. And he gave us the greatest joys. A World Cup,” he said.