THERE ARE two looks that cross the faces of residents in the tiny village of Dechmont – concern and bemusement.
Ask them about the once cheerful Heather McKay and they will look confused or will shake their heads and say: “I know that woman. Everybody recognises the faces around here.”
Only one thing seems definite – nobody knows where she is, nobody has seen her for eight days. Residents in the West Lothian village have joined together to conduct searches, police have asked questions, searched fields, handed out leaflets. Nothing.
More concerned than anybody are her distraught children, Andrea and Kevin Waddell. “Mum,” Andrea, 24, says before letting out a sob, then taking control of herself: “I love you. I miss you. I need you here.”
The devastated beautician, from Uphall, rarely goes a day without speaking to her “bubbly, sociable” mum, and she wrings her hands and fiddles with a tissue while she considers what might have happened since the 51-year-old disappeared last Friday morning.
The night before, Heather, who loves shopping and going out with friends, had joked with her daughter on the phone and talked excitedly about finding a new one- bedroom flat.
But despite being a chatterbox, Facebook fanatic and serial texter, Heather did not take her phone when she went missing at 7.30am.
Her social networking sites have since gone silent. Everything has gone silent.
“This is completely wrong,” Andrea says, shaking her head. “My mum is a very caring person, she would never do this to us. She’s bubbly, she likes to be around people.
“She had been in a short-term relationship and was in the process of moving house, so she was staying with her friend, Susan.
“She was quite low at first, but she had perked up a lot. She was upbeat, talking of moving on and getting her own one-bedroom flat.
“I don’t think [the break-up] is anything to do with what has happened. My dad passed away in 1999, so she just wouldn’t do this. She has been there for us ever since. She’d always talk to me. We’re more like sisters, best friends, than mum and daughter.”
Andrea, Kevin, 27, and Heather’s sister, Deidre, 52, are huddled together nervously, waiting for any news of their loved one. Deidre recently moved to Alicante, Spain, but when she heard about her sister, she booked a one-way ticket back to Edinburgh.
One theory – the most hopeful one – is that Heather, a care worker, may be with somebody. Somebody who has perhaps convinced her that a bit of “time out” is what she needs.
If that is the case, Deidre has a straightforward message for this person: “If she is with someone and they are trying to hide the fact, come forward. If somebody thinks they are doing her a favour, just look at her children’s faces. They are not.”
Andrea is agonising over what exactly has happened. “The fact she didn’t take her phone . . . She would always leave a note if she was going out . . .” she trails off.
“She’d always be sitting on Facebook. Mum was always be phoning or texting. She’ll ring me about anything.”
Andrea believes that, perhaps, the media build-up has intimidated her mum. “Perhaps she doesn’t want to come home, but I want to tell her ‘don’t panic, just come home’.”
Andrea explains that her mum was on annual leave, but she didn’t have any plans to go away and had told a friend that she would see her for lunch on Friday.
“She wouldn’t go off on her own,” Andrea says. “There seemed nothing out of the ordinary. Now I feel dazed, a bit zombified.”
Police are trawling CCTV and bank records to try to track Heather’s last movements.
Inspector Neill Whiteside says: “We’re hoping to build some fresh information after jogging some memories. There seems to have been no trigger for this, so the family are naturally very concerned.”
Heather, who is around 5ft 7in tall and with hazel/green eyes, was last seen wearing blue jeans, a blue Berghaus rain jacket and Hi-tec walking boots. She has a small burn mark on her forearm and a small tattoo in her right shoulder.
Meanwhile, there is only one thing her family is asking for. Wiping away tears, Andrea pleads: “Even if you don’t want to come home, let us know you’re okay. Me and Kevin are here for you. I love you.”
Heartbreakingly, an image of a charm bracelet with a poignant message remains – and will continue to remain – on Andrea’s Facebook page, reading: “The love between a mother and daughter is forever.”
• If you have any information on where Heather might be, contact Lothian and Borders Police on 0131-311 3131.