Writer Musa Okwonga Shares Exclusive Extracts From His Book ‘In The End, It Was All About Love’

Chances are, whatever your interests, you know Musa Okwonga in some capacity. The poet, Stadio football podcaster (alongside Ian Wright), football fan, musician, grime and rap historian has even penned words for this very website and we’ve written about his experimental “future blues” duo BBXO in the past, too. It’s difficult to pin down In The End, It Was All About Love, or at least to say “it’s about x, y or z”. It’s semi-autobiographical—employing increasing amounts of magical realism (a style favoured by Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie) as the novel progresses—but it is a work of fiction. It explores race, football, love, heartbreak, grief, all subjects that have loomed large in his life lately.

The lines are constantly blurred in this book. Like Okwonga, the narrator of his book is also of Ugandan heritage, lost his father at a similar age and is also coming to terms with a recent move to Berlin. If there is one subject that dominates the whole book, it would be the German capital. Okwonga moved there six years ago having become frustrated with the UK and feeling as if he had to be a “grateful immigrant”, as he puts it. He describes Germany as a “country of extremes”. “The people who fight for me here will fight like nobody else,” he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “The support and friendship I have found in this country has blown me away.” Regardless of the city’s flaws, however, it does at least appear to be a net positive, a home for outsiders even if it doesn’t always seem immediately welcoming.

Below, check out some exclusive extracts from chapters in the book. In The End, It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga is available now from Rough Trade Books. —James Keith

The Deniable Date

From your mid-twenties onwards, you have found that big cities specialise in one occasion: the deniable date. The deniable date is when you meet someone for a drink but neither of you ever actually admit that you are on a date: the benefit of this is that, if nothing romantic occurs as a result, then neither of you have to admit that this was ever the intention. The perfect time for a deniable date is a coffee, usually mid-afternoon, usually between freelancers. You will typically have met the previous week at a mutual friend’s party, or after months of sharing idle jokes on social media. You’re just catching up when you both happen to be free. You will be hoping that the person you are meeting looks as beautiful as they did to you when you saw them last week, either in real life or online. Your heart, for the briefest time, is wide open.

But there is a problem with the deniable date. Sometimes one of the two people will not entirely realise that this is an occasion with romantic possibility, and so they will remain oblivious to the efforts of the other. In such a case, the unaware person will be told of their pursuer’s interest months or even years later Oh, that guy, a mutual friend will tell you, he really fancied you. You have been in both positions before, the coveted and the one doing the coveting. You wonder if that woman last year noticed how much you wanted her to like you, and you suspect that she politely ignored your interest.

Maybe the deniable date has become more common because, as you age, people become more defensive about the suggestion that they are looking for an intimate connection. This new world, the era of defensive dating, seems to suit you very well. You are a little like a football manager who sends his team to play in hostile territory, with the emphasis not on winning the opposition’s affection but on making absolutely no emotional concessions.

This works for you very well indeed, until recently. You have just asked someone on a deniable date, for a coffee the following week. She doesn’t seem to know that you like her—but does she know? You have met her once before so maybe there was not time enough for her to discern your interest. Maybe she thinks it is just a coffee? You have hidden your interest so well that it is probably invisible. Maybe she is hiding hers? You look forward to the coffee all week. The day before the coffee you write to arrange a time and place to meet and it turns out she has got the wrong day. What do you do then? Do you ask her to rearrange or simply be honest and tell her you are asking her on an actual date? She is lovely and you think you like her so of course you neither rearrange a date to meet nor tell her you are interested. Two weeks later, you barely remember how much you were looking forward to seeing her again.

How To Handle Impostor Syndrome, Part Two

You have found a solution—which may be temporary, it may be permanent, you don’t know, but you will try it out. It is this: to tell yourself every morning: Imagine what you would do if you were confident, and then do it.

It is an excellent way to trick yourself into productivity. You contact a company to ask if they would like to work with you, you write to a producer and ask for a beat, you ask someone on a date. The company is keen, the producer politely declines, and the potential date says yes.

But most importantly, you asked—you gave yourself a chance. You return home one evening and you see the signs on your hallway mirror, your kitchen wall. You have a lot to offer, they say. You can do it, they say. Yes I do, you think, and yes I can.

How To Deal With Heartbreak

You’re an expert on handling heartbreak by now—you could even publish an illustrated guide, like those ones they hand out just before take-off. “In the event that your relationship should crash-land, carefully stow your emotions over there. Brace for impact.” The trick with heartbreak is to outrun it. Grief is slow. If you speed away from the scene quickly enough, the sadness may not catch up with you for weeks, even months.

You do what you always do. For the first ten days after the break-up, you make sure you’re out each night. Not going wild with drink or any other substance, but hiding beneath dim lights and shrouds of bass-heavy sound. This is going to be fine, like it always is.

A Thin Film Of Dust

The time has come for you to go to therapy. You know this because when you wake each morning your duvet feels as heavy against your ribs as a chest of drawers. Unable to move, you would happily lie there until your money ran out. The last time you consistently felt like this was the year after you left university; it was then that your ex-girlfriend told you that there would be days when just getting out of bed would be your greatest achievement.

You need to go to therapy: you know that because you have slowed down and you have seen nothing to encourage you to speed up again, and because in your flat there is now a thin film of dust on everything. Most people you know have not noticed this, because you are unhealthily good at pretending that you are still going at full velocity. But the signs are there, and you need to take note.

Posted on February 02, 2021