I really love the opening to Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine (1997).
There’s a scarred, twisted old madwoman in a cage in the courtyard. The nurse throws a crust at her as he passes, therefore so does the girl. Others bring a can of water, or a trencher of meat cut up small, to stuff through the bars. The woman shoves the food into her mouth, dribbling and drooling and muttering.
“Why do they keep her?” says the girl. “She is useless. She is crazy. She eats too much.”
“So do you,” says the nurse offhandedly.
“But I work,” says the girl. “I am a slave.”
“She is not a slave.”
“She is in a cage.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
The old woman babbles in a language the waif understands but the others don’t. She calls names, she recites recipes, she counts things. Sometimes she talks of hanging, and carrion crows. The girl thinks she calls like a crow herself, and the voice makes her shiver with an atavistic fear she hardly notices, so like the rest of her life it is.