BEHIND a single blue and white police crime scene tape, TV reporters are speaking the now-mundane international language of modern-day horror.

“Bomba,” says one woman into a camera. “Terrorista,” says another.

In the background there are snatches of another voice, a confident man’s, as he tells the world in English that Britain has just suffered its worst atrocity since the London bombings in 2005.

This is Manchester. The back of the Arndale shopping centre to be precise, overlooking the city’s MEN Arena, one of the world’s biggest music venues. It was there, in a foyer full of T-shirts and posters celebrating former child star Ariana Grande, that a man blew himself up late on Monday, ending at least 22 lives and shattering so many more.

Irina Kontorova saw the carnage and now, at that police tape, she is reliving it in front of the cameras. The student, 19, matter-of-factly rattles through her evening. How she was late. How there was a bang just after the final song of the show. And then she breaks down. “They were just children, teenagers,” she says, her cheeks reddening as tears well up. “They were covered in blood. They were crushed. Their legs were broken. Their arms were broken. And they were crying.”

Manchester is full of stories like Irina’s. Thousands of people, many from way beyond the city, were at the gig. Many thousands more watched mobile phone footage of the aftermath, short videos of running, stumbling, frightened teenagers. And all the images came with a soundtrack of screams, their high pitch telling us who had been targeted: girls, young girls, some at their first pop concert.

First there were stories of parents trying to reach their children, of mobile phones that just rang out. As yesterday wore on there came pictures of the dead, the missing and the injured. Young faces. Very young. First there was Georgina Callander. She was 18, a student. But the image that flashed around the globe was of her two years ago, a superfan selfie with Ariana Grande herself. Georgina’s joyous smile revealed she was still in braces.

The next victim was Saffie Roussos. She was eight. Her headteacher in her home town of Preston said she was a “beautiful girl in every aspect of the word”.

Yesterday the space at the tape belonged to news crews, belonged to the world, belonged to those telling the same bloody story as Tel Aviv, St Petersburg, Paris, Brussels, Nice and Boston.

The previous night the same streets were still Manchester’s. This was where mothers in pyjamas brought flasks of piping hot, sweet tea for the children of strangers and for the police. This was where locals offered a warm room – even a bed for the night – to families they had never met before. And this was where random motorists turned up offering lifts. Taxis from as far as Liverpool queued to take hundreds of stranded concert-goers wherever they needed to go. Trams and trains from nearby Victoria Station had ground to a halt.

Manchester took heart from this instinctive solidarity yesterday. A few hundred yards from the police cordon there is a statue to Victorian reformer Richard Cobden, his sideburns long and his right hand tucked in his waistcoat. To his feet Mancunians brought flowers and a mood of defiance. Somebody had used grey gaffer tape to stick a yellow card to his marble pedestal: “This is Manchester. We unite. We are strong. We open our doors to strangers. We give free taxi rides.”

In the golden light of the late afternoon, pavement artist Rachel Harrington, 23, chalked a message from Manchester’s new mayor on to the ground below Cobden. “We are grieving today,” she wrote in white, before adding in sky blue, “but we are strong.” She was to repeat the refrain on concrete across the city.

Ms Harrington was watched by another artist, Leslie Darlington. He sat and tried to make sense of the world with his sketchpad. “This is therapy for me,” the 69-year-old said, as he coloured a blue balloon with a white dove above a crowd of milling mourners, each figure drawn long, like a shadow. “What happened will take a long time to sink in. They will talk about strength but there is also trauma, and despair and fear. The legacy will take a long time to work through.”

Mr Darlington, whose artistic name is Elton Darlo, had his own fright yesterday. Back at the Arndale, still relatively new after it was destroyed by an IRA bomb two decades ago, there had been panic – “Mass hysteria,” said one witness. Hundreds of shoppers had fled through its glass doors on to the High Street amid talk of a gun and a bang and a man being escorted by armed police. “They came out so fast I thought they were going to knock me over,” Mr Darlington said. “They were running right towards me. I thought: ‘They could kill me’.”

These were raw, frayed nerves. But as stores shuttered up on the main drags, many Mancunians refused to surrender their streets. Outside an Adidas store – shut, according to an A4 notice, tacked to its window“because of unforeseen circumstances” – a band of reggae buskers called Ruff Trade played Bob Marley. “We want no more trouble,” they sang as two girls, one white and one Asian in a headscarf, shimmied their shoulders in sync. “Let’s forget about our problems and smile.”

His shirt off and his baseball cap emblazoned in silver cannabis leaf badges, James Frieden echoed that message. “We’re tough, we Mancs,” the 25-year-old cleaner explained. James was trying to catch up with friends he knew had been at the gig. trying to see Facebook on his phone in the blazing sunshine. He, like so many, had been stuck after a night shift on Monday morning and was exhausted. Mr Frieden was in Piccadilly Gardens, one of hundreds lying on the grass and telling each other their own stories. Here the snatches of conversation were the same as everywhere in Manchester, of sleepless nights tracing friends on social media, ears glued to 24 hours news. Some drained, fell asleep on the lawns, even as sirens continued to blare. They were guarded by police. many with automatic rifles held barrel down diagonally across their chests. Two officers stopped to hear another busker, Sam Fairweather. “Good tunes, fella,’ they told the 30-year-old as he packed his amp and guitar on to a trolley. ‘Thanks,’ said Sam, taking a long, tired drag on a cigarette.

The father of two, like Raff Trade, had been bringing Bob Marley to Manchester, rewriting lyrics on the hoof and handing out hundreds of little Christian cards saying, simply, ‘You are loved.’ “The beautiful thing about this city is that everyone helped,” he said, speaking about the panic at the Arndale. “I think we changed the vibe.”

Manchester seemed to want to prove him right. As afternoon turned to evening, thousands took to the streets, The city’s Sikh community marched in to the centre waving flags saying “I heart MCR’ and changing the name of God. Bystanders erupted in to spontaneous applause as their coloured turbans arrived in Albert Square, in the shadow of Manchester’s sandstone Victorian town hall, a St George ’s Cross and a union flag both at half mast amid its turrets. Here was the biggest crowd of the day. They gathered to hear defiance and strength and they were not disappointed. As the clocks struck six, dignitaries emerged to the gentle chords of Elgar. And then silence.

As politicians - such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and the Liberal Democrat Tim Farron looked on, their general election campaigns suspended - it was left to preachers and poets to give the city a voice.

David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, was cheered like a pop star as he defied those who would use an atrocity to spark hate. “They are the very few,’ he said. “But we are the many. We are the world city we are because many people have made their homes here. You cannot defeat us because love is always stronger than hate.’ Then came Tony Walsh, poet, with his work. This is the Place. His words echoed across the square: “It’s hard times again in these streets of our city/ But we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity because this is the place where we stand strong together with a smile on our face, Mancunians forever.”

Bishop Walker lit a candle. This was billed, after all, as a vigil. It felt more like a celebration of victory, a city which refused to turn on itself or anyone else.

Suddenly hands were raised above heads and clapped as the crowd broke in to a football chant: “Man Chest Er. Man Chest Er.” A few solitary banners were raised too. One read simply: “We refuse to be enemies.”