January 28, 2021

Two kilometers of crying and waiting

This Wednesday José went to a Buenos Aires greengrocer and there were two things he could not believe: the price of a kilo of onions and that Diego Armando Maradona was dead. He left the grocery store with fewer onions than he had anticipated and with the feeling that the world was a much more uncertain place than when he had entered. He used the next few blocks to ask several of those who were walking if the news he had just received was true. “Is what they say true?” “And that was enough. They told me ‘it’s true’, ‘it’s true’, and when one told me ‘yes, he’s dead’, well, that’s it, I fully believed ”.

José doesn’t know exactly how old he is because they found him on the street when he was more or less young. He does know how many years he has been a cartonero: “I have been a surgeon for twenty years, cardboarding. I don’t have a cart, the cart is put by someone else, I put the force ”. Count your Wednesday this Thursday, in the line of thousands of people who wait their turn to pass more or less close to the drawer that serves to begin to understand that it is true. That Maradona is dead. José has a cardboard turned into a banner. It says “Cartoneros con Diego”.

“I came because Maradona was a jetón, as many of us are, those of us who have no way of getting off the street. It was a jetón and it said what many of us would like to say. That’s why I came, ”explains José.

It is something like half a block and two police lines from entering the Casa Rosada. Maradona came to this building in 1986, converted into a hero, to lift that World Cup that he had brought from Mexico. In this building, by decision of his family, today is the farewell of thousands and thousands and more thousands of people who go on pilgrimage to cry or shout or smile in front of his remains.

There is a kind of certainty in conversations with acquaintances and strangers that serve to wait for the no less than three hours it takes to enter the Government House and say goodbye: no one slept well last night. No one is well rested in this crowd. Nobody fell asleep as they did when you went to sleep with the (false) assurance that the next day Maradona would still be alive. “I watched the news all afternoon and all night, and when I saw that I wasn’t going to sleep anymore, I told my son to come over.” Ramona, 71, says it as she walks through the fence that leads out of La Rosada. Before he says this: “I came because he was one of us, one of those who did us good, one who made us happy.” Before saying anything, Ramona cries. Later, too.

There are two more or less stable behaviors among those who stand in line that, as the hours of this Thursday of sun and pain go by, occupying more and more blocks of Avenida de Mayo, and then turning through Bernardo de Irigoyen, and suddenly it measures two kilometers of people and no less than five hours of waiting. Those who brought a flower from their home, or bought two carnations for 100 pesos or a rose for 200 from one of the vendors who hang around the crowd, cry often. The flowers are the confirmation that they are here to watch over the dead, and that the dead hurt. Those who came with a flag from no matter what club, with a national team shirt from no matter what year, are the ones who put their throat the most to that “you have to encourage Maradó.”

Of all the songs, of all the verses of all the songs, there is one that makes those who sing scream louder and those who have already begun to hurt cry with more anguish. All that happens together when it is heard that Diego must be encouraged “in good times AND MUCH MORE IN BAD”. The capital letters are not from this chronicler: they are from people who are heard singing four blocks before they start to see her.

There are three moments in Maradona’s life that are talked about while waiting as one talks about an exposed fracture. An instant of break that hurts, makes a lot of noise and leaves marks that are seen in any X-ray that comes later.

“When Doña Tota died, he began to die.” A friend says it to another in Avenida de Mayo and Peru, a nurse tells a coworker who is attentive so that no one lowers their blood pressure or gets dehydrated, and a saleswoman of patys says it to a boy who is about to pay him, cries a little and is old enough to have not seen Maradona play any World Cup. Reach for a word to name that idea that snakes in the line: madness.

Others say that the disqualification of the ’94 World Cup, the one in which Argentina had gotten involved with the return of the prodigal Diego to the National Team to beat Australia in the repechage, forever stole the captain’s tape that Maradona used walking with his chest pulled forward. How those who are determined to occupy more space than they were given walk. “How many nurses do you remember your face?” Says a girl in line, wearing the Napoli jersey 10. And you, who just agreed with the girl, how many nurses do you remember your face?

For example, three friends in their thirties speak of the other breakdown who check their cell phones every so often because they are about to say goodbye and they are also doing home office. “Claudia put all this on her shoulder. Everything about the wake was coordinated by her ”. Claudia Villafañe, the woman Diego married at a party that the then President of the Nation did not attend because by protocol it was not convenient for him to be below the platform of the bride and groom, Dalma’s mother and Gianinna, the former wife whom Maradona despised and sued in recent years, and the woman with whom the current President coordinated the details of Maradona’s public farewell, entered the Casa Rosada this morning. It was seen on television: his steady step made way for his daughters. “When Claudia was close, Diego was more protected, more controlled.” Esteban is 62 years old and this Thursday he did not open his hardware store in Lomas de Zamora because it seemed better to come to Plaza de Mayo. “Sure, but at some point Claudia couldn’t take it anymore.” Guadalupe came with Esteban: they have been married for 38 years.

It is not a day of the commons. To the jacaranda flowers that correspond to any Buenos Aires November are added the electronic posters of the city, which warn that the Plaza de Mayo area is closed to traffic and that say “Thank you Diego.” This time the Avenida de Mayo is not filled with political graffiti: with chalk, some artists use the canvas asphalt and draw some faces of some of all the Maradona we met. The face of that little boy who said he had a dream, to play for the National Team, and that if that came true, he had another: to win a World Cup. The face of that player many years later, with the two dreams fulfilled and offered to the people that this Thursday scrambles the bottom of their backpack to get 100 pesos for the goodbye carnation.

This 2020 is not a common year. For this reason, in addition to posters at 200 pesos and T-shirts that say God does not die at 600, black chinstraps that have Maradona’s signature in some corner are sold like hot bread. That signature that combines a squiggle with a ten in parentheses, like this. That warns that his name and Ten are the same thing.

He was not a common man. There are two kilometers of people queuing to take home a piece of the popular history of this country.


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